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Hybe likely to join FTC’s antitrust watch list

With total assets exceeding 5 trillion won, BTS agency subject to tighter disclosure rules

By Choi Ji-won

Published : April 10, 2024 - 14:16

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Hybe's founder and chairperson Bang Si-hyuk. (Hybe) Hybe's founder and chairperson Bang Si-hyuk. (Hybe)

Hybe, the powerhouse behind K-pop sensation BTS, is poised to claim the "large firm" status, with its total assets passing beyond the 5 trillion won ($3.7 billion) mark last year.

According to the company's regulatory filings, Hybe's total assets stood at 5.35 trillion won by the end of last year, marking a 9.8 percent increase from the 4.87 trillion won tallied in 2022.

This milestone heralds a groundbreaking achievement as the first K-pop company to enter the esteemed "5 trillion won club." Every year, the Fair Trade Commission designates businesses with total assets exceeding 5 trillion won as "large corporations," that are subject to tighter disclosure rules and other antitrust regulations.

The watchdog also designates a "same person," typically the head of the large firms, following a thorough assessment of their direct and indirect shareholding ratio and their overall corporate control within the business group. Additionally, the same person and their family are subject to asset disclosure and regulations concerning their involvement in the business.

Bang Si-hyuk, the founder and chair of the board of Hybe, and the largest shareholder with a 31.57 percent stake, is likely to be tapped as Hybe's same person.

The FTC is scheduled to unveil the list of large corporate groups in early May.

In 2019, Bang transformed BTS' former agency, BigHit Entertainment, into Hybe, successfully pivoting it into a global multi-label entertainment and lifestyle company.

Aggressively expanding both domestically and internationally through strategic acquisitions, Hybe entered the stock market in 2020 and swiftly ascended to the topmost ranks. Presently, the company's market cap is valued at approximately 9 trillion won.

K-pop boy group BTS poses for photos during the 64th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on April 3, 2022. (Big Hit Music) K-pop boy group BTS poses for photos during the 64th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on April 3, 2022. (Big Hit Music)

Fueled by the unparalleled success of BTS, the country's first and only Grammy-nominated pop artist, Hybe has achieved remarkable feats on the global stage. In 2021, its US subsidiary, Hybe America, acquired Ithaca Holdings, thereby enlisting global pop icons Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande onto its roster of artists. Furthermore, Hybe secured ownership of American hip-hop label QC Media Holdings and Latin music label Exile Music last year.

Currently, the South Korean conglomerate has under its roof multiple major K-pop labels, including Big Hit Music and Pledis Entertainment, representing globally renowned acts including BTS, Seventeen, NewJeans, Le Sserafim and Tomorrow X Together. Spanning across South Korea, Japan, the US and, most recently, Mexico -- its newest base in Latin America -- Hybe operates a total of 12 labels worldwide.

Despite concerns over the impact of BTS' group hiatus owing to the members' mandatory military enlistment, the company has demonstrated resilience, buoyed by the success of its younger groups.

Most notably, the firm recently introduced the global girl group Katseye in collaboration with Universal Music Group's Geffen Records, alongside the local debuts of K-pop groups Illit and TWS.

As a result of these strategic moves, the company achieved its highest-ever annual sales of 2.18 trillion won last year, marking a robust 22.6 percent increase from 2022. Additionally, the operating profit soared by 25 percent on year to 295.8 billion won.

Hybe's industry competitors, including SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, reported total assets of 871 billion won, 544 billion won and 478 billion won, respectively. Their market value each stands at 1.83 trillion won, 802.8 billion won and 2.36 trillion won, respectively.